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Posts by Christian Ford

June 6th, 2017

Hive Dive

BY Christian Ford

I was just along for the ride. Sometimes family determines what you encounter in life, and so it is that my children, students of a public school best described as renegade, are the gateway to a parade of unexpected things.  Their school embraces serendipity and one day serendipity brought Carl, a local man heavily engaged in beekeeping.  So now bees are part of the life of the classroom. The timing couldn’t be better because bees — as you must know and if […]

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In the fall of 2012, the NYTimes magazine ran a piece by Dan Buettner with the catchy title The Island Where People Forget to Die.  It was about the Greek island of Ikaria and, yes, it looks just like all those Greek islands, with the whitewashed walls, the turquoise sea and the nostalgic haze suggesting that this slower, simpler life must be a better one.  The difference is, at least when it comes to human lifespan, life on Ikaria really […]

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Chances are that you’ve heard of the Iceman, even if you can’t pronounce his nickname, Ötzi.  (Tell your lips and tongue to say “E,” but instead make the sound of “O” and you’ll be on the right path.) In any case, Ötzi was the copper age man who died in the Tyrolean Alps over 5,000 years ago, and then froze solid until his icefield melted in 1991, yielding the most well-preserved natural mummy ever discovered.  They’ve been studying him for […]

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I don’t think I’ll get a lot of pushback if I suggest that Americans have a singularly weird relationship with food.  Until now, I’ve blithely assumed that this was a relatively recent phenomenon, that the weirdness grew from a modern sensibility rooted in a reverence for technology, amplified by leisure and driven to full madness by advertising.  But, boy, was I wrong.  Or maybe, I’ve just been defining “modern” incorrectly. The craziness started in the 19th century, and it was, […]

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March 13th, 2017

The Malt Caves

BY Christian Ford

The English city of Nottingham — seat of Robin Hood’s infamous sheriff — was built on  sandstone.  The city’s castle stands on a high outcrop of the stuff which is why it’s now called  Nottingham Castle sandstone.  This silty stone, laid down by a primordial river, is so soft that just about anyone can dig through it.   At the same time, it’s sturdy enough to not collapse, even you don’t know much about digging tunnels.  As you might imagine, […]

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March 4th, 2017

Hate You, Baby

BY Christian Ford

The other day I had the opportunity to play with no less than thirty typewriters from the first half of the last century and since this is a column about food and culture and not industrial design, I’ll limit my report to saying that it was a journey to a culture of refreshing tactility. The experience was still with me when I found myself trying to repair a brand-new electric pencil sharpener at my son’s school.  It was a doomed errand, because […]

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February 24th, 2017

Food/Lawns/Food

BY Christian Ford

About a decade ago, a movement emerged called “Food Not Lawns.” This was a drive to replace the ubiquitous suburban lawn with a yardscape that yielded sustenance. You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that this created a minor firestorm in some neighborhoods, particularly those governed by “covenants” that the homeowners bought into with their home purchases. Almost uniformly, these covenants were about protecting home value by mandating a certain 1950s suburban pride aesthetic, with the manicured lawn as […]

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February 10th, 2017

The Yuck Factor

BY Christian Ford

Disgust arrives with such a visceral and instinctive punch that we should be forgiven for assuming that it’s hardwired.  To be clear, disgust is a universal human emotion with an equally universal facial expression, which means that it’s intrinsic to the human animal.  But exactly what triggers that response is highly flexible and culturally conditioned.  In other words, we have to learn just what counts as disgusting, which is why different cultures have very different ideas of what you should […]

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February 2nd, 2017

The Maltings

BY Christian Ford

Brewing is the next edifice to fall to the welcome march of “local,” with some craft brewers branching into farming to create a bottled version of farm-to-table.  It’s an interesting development, but for some reason it puts me in mind of how we could only have local food after food became un-local in the first place, which of course means that most food was, in a historic sense, local.  Brewing was very much a part of that, because beer didn’t […]

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Now that citizens of the United States live in what some cynics (or would that be realists?) describe as a kleptocracy, it’s useful to reflect on just who owns just what.  A lovely and lucid piece by Rachel Cernansky at Ensia details what is called the Open Source Seed Initiative, and it’s well worth reading if you’re interested in, say, food. The short version is that large seed companies (think Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and so on) have taken to filling […]

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Rumor has it that ancient Romans once partook of a fish which produced what we would call an acid trip.  The evidence of this is, unsurprisingly, fuzzy — but it’s well within the realm of the possible.  Sarpa salpa is a common denizen of the Mediterranean coast that goes by the name of the cow bream, or the goldline, or the salema porgy.  It’s a frequent “fresh caught” menu item in the south of France, and that’s where a couple […]

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In this season of unexpected obituaries, let me add one more name:  Serge Hochar.  He’s been gone two years now, but his story, his life’s work, is so deeply enmeshed with time and history that it seems somehow right to let him settle into history before turning to reflect upon what he accomplished. Hochar was a winemaker of French ancestry who worked in Lebanon.  I was surprised when I heard of his terroir but that was only demonstrating the depth […]

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December 15th, 2016

This Bud’s For You

BY Christian Ford

I suppose it’s part and parcel of our escalating Weimar Republic flashback to simultaneously watch the school for scoundrels roll back the cultural clock while some people spin it forward.  Exhibit No. 1:  the entire Left Coast, all 1300 miles of it, which has now legalized marijuana.  I’ll leave it to the Magic 8-Ball to determine what position the incoming federal administration takes on this, but while we’re waiting, we have an interesting bit of data to unpack. It seems […]

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November 30th, 2016

Break Stuff

BY Christian Ford

There are the things you know are coming, and then there are the things that you can imagine are coming and, regrettably, it’s the latter that matters.  So, in light of an election which shuffled impossible into inescapable, perhaps it is time to revisit the list of “yeah, someday,” and “maybe, I dunno” food events that we’ve all heard of but which have never crossed the imaginative border into reality. I’ll focus on seven foods, but it’s not really seven.  […]

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November 15th, 2016

Resurrection Seed

BY Christian Ford

Their home was a fortress, so they did what residents of a fortress do — prepared for the siege.  In time, the siege came and — though the fortress seemed impregnable — the walls were breached.  Only seven of the nearly thousand defenders survived and the victors cast a coin to commemorate the defeat of the rebellion.  On the front of the coin, they put the visage of their well-fed emperor and on the back, the figure of a woman […]

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October 31st, 2016

The Grind

BY Christian Ford

East of Iceland, North of Scotland, and West of Norway you’d expect to find little but cold, gray sea, and yet there’s a country there, a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, home to some forty-nine thousand descendants of Viking men and Celtic women.  This is the Faroe Islands and, while they remain part of Denmark’s realm, the Faroe Islanders are their own masters, having wrested a living from these chill rocks since the year 1000. The archipelago is […]

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Sailors, it is said, have a fondness for strong drink, whether it’s singing pirates in Stevenson’s Treasure Island (“Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum”) or the Royal Navy’s official daily ration of grog (tragically deep-sixed in 1970.)   The origins of the practice are old, deriving from the era in European history when alcohol was so pervasive that there was no more thought of excluding alcohol from aboard ship than would be of excluding food. Back then, the […]

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October 3rd, 2016

The Outsiders

BY Christian Ford

While learning about Sioux Chef Sean Sherman and his effort to reconstruct a genuine North American cuisine, and I found myself thinking about Afghanistan.  Yes, the Dakota badlands echo the mountains of Central Asia, but those weren’t the similarities that intrigued.  Sherman’s home turf, the Pine Ridge Reservation, is one of the poorest places in the United States, while in Afghanistan close to half of the people scrape by on less than $1.35 a day.  More tellingly, both the Sioux […]

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September 13th, 2016

Same Old (New) World

BY Christian Ford

There are times when I look at the culture I inhabit — taking note of the supersized food, the love affair with plastic, the apparently holy commandment to use as much energy as possible — and I wonder how on earth we got this way.  Was it the fact that the US used to be the Saudi Arabia of the world?  Or maybe it was the abundant farmland?  Or perhaps it was simply the allure of the movies that made so […]

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August 18th, 2016

Galley Slaves

BY Christian Ford

On August 2nd, Dominique Saavedra achieved something no other enlisted woman in the US Navy ever had — a faux silver badge of 1920s design was pinned above the left breast pocket of her fatigues.  Colloquially known as the “dolphins,” the coveted insignia can only worn by those who have qualified to serve aboard US submarines, an arduous and demanding path and one that, until 2015, had only been open to enlisted men.  So, hats off to Chief Saavedra and […]

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It was in a footnote of a book I no longer remember that I first heard “hopping” used to describe something other than what you’d do after stubbing your toe.   Hopping, it turned out, was also an annual migration of Londoners to the hop farms of Kent in the southeast corner of England.  I found the notion instantly intriguing because I simply couldn’t imagine  London’s hardscrabble urban poor afoot in the postcard countryside.   It’s a vanished tradition now, […]

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Some years back, I was part of a community garden.  We arrived the very first year of its existence, which meant that it was a place with no traditions and where most of the gardeners were beginners.  Consequently, there was unusual clarity, as the different patches began to sprout, about what everyone valued.  There were immense plots, tiny plots, highly ordered micro farms that could have escaped from an illustrated children’s book.  And then, there was my plot. Do you […]

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Even if we lived in a world without borders, you would know when you’d arrived somewhere different — the food would change.  That’s not as apparent as it once was, what with McDonald’s hamburgers in Paris, New Zealand apples in Washington State, and your average carrot traveling over a thousand miles to reach you; global trade works tirelessly to obscure the fact that foods and cuisines are rooted in place.   Sometimes, however, you get powerfully reminded of the fact […]

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After writing about Korean artist Jihyun Ryou’s “Saving Food from the Fridge” project, I planned to try some of her ideas for myself.  Of course, I typically have more plans than time but serendipity chose to intervene.  It happened when some freshly purchased bok choy ended up on the counter beside a mysteriously shaped ceramic that my daughter made.  It’s a dark blue thing somewhat like a pie tin and I found that — following Jihyun Ryou’s precepts — if […]

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“What’s in the fridge?” is the refrain.  But a Korean woman practicing design in the Netherlands would like us to change the question to something along the lines of “Why in the fridge?”  Her name is Jihyun Ryou and several years ago, she began thinking about how  this most necessary and ubiquitous appliance had, while tirelessly preserving food, also lead to a certain kind of rot. Her musings became an art/design project that she initially called “Shaping Knowledge,” before settling […]

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In the art and science of modern mapmaking, technology looms large.  GPS coordinates identify location and elevation, aerial photography and LIDAR capture the shape and detail of the land, photogrammetry can convert a stack of snapshots into 3D models of landforms and structures.  But though all that is more than a little like magic, it has the drawback of being fundamentally disconnected from the reality it is attempting to capture.  Which is why, when all the GPSing and LIDARing and photographing […]

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The city of Bristol, wedged between England’s Southwest Peninsula and South Wales, has been a seafaring town since as far back as anyone can imagine.  It was from Bristol in 1497 that an ambitious Italian expat rebranded as John Cabot set off to make the first recorded European landing on North America since the Vikings went home 500 years earlier.  (Various fishermen had gotten there earlier, but they weren’t about to talk it up and share the richest fishing grounds […]

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My family — like yours and like most — has a few “old family recipes.”  One for ham is about a century old and it includes the curious instruction of cutting off both ends of the ham before putting it into the pan.  The truth is, no one knows exactly why we do this, but  it’s how we’ve always done it, so we keep on doing it. Now hold that thought, and come with me to the distant European past […]

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April 19th, 2016

Just Imagine

BY Christian Ford

Sometimes, I think it’s really just a failure of imagination. If we assume, as I think we must, that the timeless Big Question is “how do we feed ourselves,” then imagination looms very large indeed.  One one of the reasons that I find myself fascinated by the forgotten history of answers to this question is the breathtaking cleverness of it all.  It’s stunning, really, the profound subtlety of how our forebears figured out how to leverage the tiniest of advantages […]

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April 11th, 2016

The Messenger

BY Christian Ford

Every so often I have the good fortune — or perhaps I mean misfortune — of getting my paradigm shifted.  My father’s stint as a fisherman was past before I came along, but on occasion it would make its presence known, like once when he commented that the bounty of the sea was too vast to ever be exhausted. I didn’t think about it, just accepted it as a verity.  And though neither of us knew it, there was data […]

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They say that the more things change the more they stay the same.  But sometimes I wonder if that’s not quite right, if it isn’t that the more things change, the more they become the same.    After all, it isn’t just the milk that’s homogenized. So it’s helpful to glance over one’s shoulder and see what used to fill up the world.  Take, for instance, Fat Men’s Clubs.  They vanished in the first half of the twentieth century, but […]

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One of the benefits of raising children is constant rediscovery.  Take, for instance, what were once your favorite books.  Even if they still lurk on your shelf, the chances of revisiting one are slim unless you have someone to go there with.  But since I do, I recently rediscovered a book I read many, many times, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. In an ironic but very real sense, Dahl was my first “food writer.”  It’s not because […]

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February 3rd, 2016

Les Hortillonnages

BY Christian Ford

The name of the river comes from a Celtic word meaning “tranquil.”  The Somme flows, gentle and winding, through the north of France, towards the English Channel and a bay where Duke William of Normandy once assembled the fleet that would transform him into William the Conqueror.   Halfway through the river’s 150-mile course across Picardy, the city of Amiens rises on its banks, but this spot was seen as a good place to live long before its citizens spoke […]

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January 26th, 2016

Eating Our Words

BY Christian Ford

A thousand years ago, the Norman Conquest changed the course of British history.  It also, from our particular point of view, introduced a conceptual fuzziness into how we talk about — and around — the ways we feed ourselves.  The cows, pigs, sheep and chickens in the barnyards of the English (“Angle-ish”) peasantry became beef, pork, mutton and poultry on the tables of the French-speaking nobility which conquered Britain. While the differentiation of pigs from pork has simplified the mental […]

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Once upon a time, the notion of bottled water was exotic to American sensibilities.  I recall first encountering the mystery of water in bottles on an early journey to Europe, where I discovered that restaurants did not habitually serve a glass of iced water.  Requesting water usually resulted in the arrival of a bottle which, upon further examination, was inevitably sourced from a particular spring.  What I recall the most is that they all had — to a greater or […]

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Paul Dobbins was not what I was expecting.  Before I can explain my expectation, I should unravel why something that happened not far from Portland, Oregon lead me to meet up with Paul in a diner in Portland, Maine. The Pacific Northwest coast is home to the nation’s largest shellfish producers.  Abundant, thinly settled coastline and cold, nutrient-filled water make this ideal habitat for oysters and their kin. It’s been that way since the first humans made their way into […]

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As Proust crystallized for us, memory inhabits food in a very special way.  With the season of traditions behind us, I’ve been wondering what kinds of food-memories are being laid down right now and how they will be looked back upon, come some other day. We can find a hint in the NY Times, where the venerable Jacques Pepin has been revisiting the places and moments and food that intersect in his recall and it feels like a novel of […]

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December 28th, 2015

Big Mac Attack

BY Christian Ford

A long time ago, in the fall after the summer when people first left footprints on the moon, I was hungry.  Really hungry.  The kind of hunger you’d feel if someone told you that you couldn’t eat for two weeks which, in fact, someone had. That someone was a surgeon and though there were many things that the almost-seven-year-old me was none-too-pleased about, it was the hunger that was most constant.  I wasn’t being starved, mind you.  I was being […]

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December 3rd, 2015

Gum Lock

BY Christian Ford

If you’ve been to Seattle, chances are that you’ve visited Pike Place Market and if you’ve visited Pike Place Market, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ve come face-to-face with the Gum Wall.  In case you’ve been spared this experience, the Gum Wall is exactly what it sounds like — a brick wall completely encrusted with chewing gum. It’s bizarre and wince-inducing enough to have become a genuine tourist attraction. Or rather, it was, because the estimated 1.1 tons of gum […]

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October 29th, 2015

Boo

BY Christian Ford

In time for Halloween, here’s a grab bag of ways in which food fits into the holiday, no trick-or-treaters required. Our first certainly counts as a trick. The Pig-Made-Pet fad of the 1980s (Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig) has returned in the form of the “Teacup Pig.”  The sad truth is that the overwhelming adorableness of a piglet is inexorably fleeting.  They grow up, way up, into eating machines.  Time is the real prankster here, taking advantage of the naivety of 21st […]

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October 21st, 2015

Blackacres

BY Christian Ford

Let’s begin with an experiment.  In your mind’s eye, conjure up the image of an American farmer.  Nothing fancy, just the first thing that comes to mind.  Got it?  Good. Now, what color is your inner farmer’s skin? I’ll tell you mine — it’s white. A little dusty, heavily tanned, but unquestionably white.  Now if I push for more diversity, my farmer will turn female.  Then hispanic.  Then asian.  But that’s where my rainbow of farmerdom fades.  There are no […]

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October 13th, 2015

Counterintuitive

BY Christian Ford

The word in the Lakota language is Heyókȟa, but the whites who first recognized that these Native Americans were somehow different gave them the name of “Contraries.”  In simplest form, they were tribe members who did the opposite of what was expected or normal, whether that be bathing in dirt, or charging into battle when ordered to retreat.  This wasn’t occasional behavior, it was all the time, every day. Contrary to what you might think, this wasn’t an aberration, or […]

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October 7th, 2015

Father Knows Best

BY Christian Ford

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to the US, I’ve been thinking about a letter I got last summer.  You got it, too.  I know because it was addressed to every last person on earth.  Entitled Laudato Si’, (medieval Italian for “praise be to you”) it is what’s known as an encyclical, a letter which communicates the teaching of the Catholic Church. Now, generally, I’m not a fan of hierarchy.  But every once in a very great while, the […]

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September 24th, 2015

Zōon Politikon

BY Christian Ford

It was Aristotle who fixed the notion of humanity as zōon politikon, that is, a political animal.  His meaning was not that we have an intrinsic interest in endless election seasons, but rather that we only live up to our full potential when living as part of a polis, or community.  It’s an interesting distinction that has withstood the test of time; chimpanzees are damnably smart, but you’ll never see two of them cooperating to, say, carry a heavy object.  […]

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September 9th, 2015

All Thumbs

BY Christian Ford

A friend, knowing what I do here, recently suggested that I watch “The Mind of a Chef.”  Why not? I thought, pausing only briefly to muse that I had never intentionally viewed a cooking show, excepting a period in the third grade when I was mysteriously fascinated by something called The Galloping Gourmet. So I did watch an episode and “Mind of a Chef” seems a perfectly reasonable endeavor.  But the primary response that the show provoked in me was […]

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